Two vaccines for COVID-19 will likely be approved for emergency use by the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Committee later this month, which are the ones made by Pfizer and Moderna. Both companies have released extensive safety data regarding the efficacy of their drugs. The vaccines have shown to be 94-95% effective at preventing new infections and 100% effective at preventing serious illness, regardless of the person’s age, race, or background.
However, many individuals across the country remain skeptical of the vaccines, particularly those in the African American community. Anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories have been circulating online, which has only made the problem worse in recent months.
The U.S. healthcare industry and federal government have a long history of systemic racism, and black leaders are doing everything they can to build trust within their communities so more people will get vaccinated for COVID-19 when the opportunity arises.
That’s why the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is making the rounds, reminding folks that the Moderna vaccine was developed in part by a black woman. Here’s her incredible story and why it matters to the black community.
Who Is Kizzmekia S. Corbett PhD?
Dr. Fauci knows that many people remain hesitant to take a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus, so he’s been speaking publicly about the safety and efficacy of them as they make their way through the approval process.
He recently spoke at an event hosted by the National Urban League, a historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization, about these issues. He was quick to acknowledge the country’s legacy of systemic racism, dating back to the days of slavery, and how those experiences have fostered a sense of distrust among black Americans.
He reminded listeners that the Moderna drug was developed by a black woman in hopes that it would assuage some of their doubt and hesitation:
“The very vaccine that’s one of the two that has absolutely exquisite levels — 94 to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against serious disease that are shown to be clearly safe — that vaccine was actually developed in my institute’s vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett.”
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is the National Institute of Health’s lead scientist for coronavirus vaccine research. She worked with the company Moderna to develop the mRNA technology used to block new infections from taking root in the body.
Dr. Corbett has been vocal about concerns regarding distrust in the black community. She’s seen some of this skepticism first-hand and says overcoming this sense of distrust will take time.
“I would say to people who are vaccine-hesitant that you’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process,” as Dr. Corbett said in a recent interview.
She’s also been sharply critical of the Trump Administration’s handling of the pandemic, citing its lack of diversity and efficacy as the virus killed disproportionately more black people than whites:
“Trust, especially when it has been stripped from people, has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. And so, what I say to people firstly is that I empathize, and then secondly is that I’m going to do my part in laying those bricks. And I think that if everyone on our side, as physicians and scientists, went about it that way, then the trust would start to be rebuilt.”
Dr. Fauci believes Corbett’s story could help convince more black people to take the vaccine.
“So, the first thing you might want to say to my African American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you’re going to be taking was developed by an African American woman,” Fauci added. “And that is just a fact.”
A study released by the COVID Collaborative, the NAACP, and UnidosUS shows that just 14% of African Americans believe the vaccine will be safe, while just 18% said it would be effective. The study found that most of these concerns stem from events from the past, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment when black men with syphilis were told they were receiving free medical care from the government, only to be denied care at the end of the study.
Fauci and his colleagues have been addressing issues of distrust across different racial and ethnic groups. When people talk of their distrust of the government and the private companies making these drugs, Fauci points out that both are advised by independent committees made up of experienced clinicians, scientists, and ethicists.
When asked if he plans on taking the drug himself, he said, “When they then say that the vaccine is safe and effective, I will tell you all that I, myself, will be perfectly comfortable in taking the vaccine and I will recommend it to my family.”